Tonight the Buffalo Sabres (17-7-3) arrive in Nashville to face off against the Predators (18-8-1). For the first time in many Decembers, the Sabres enter the contest tied with the Predators, with each team having earned 37 points.
The Sabers have a young, fast team complimented by a handful of crafty veterans. The Predators have a relatively seasoned team, complimented by a lot of Milwaukee call-ups due to injury. Can the Predators weather the storm of injuries again tonight against one of the top teams in the NHL?
The Buffalo Sabres
One year can make all the difference. After drafting first overall and selecting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin this summer, the Sabres have emerged as a threat in the Atlantic Division. However, Dahlin is not the player leading the charge. Jack Eichel is averaging well over a point per game, and 23-year-old Sam Reinhart already has almost half as many points as he did last season.
A big change for Buffalo has been the veterans on this roster. The Jeff Skinner trade from Carolina was expected to be a steal from Buffalo, but Skinner is second on the Sabres in points with 28 in just 27 games. Furthermore, 36-year-old Jason Pominville is fourth on the team in points and ready for one of his best post-lockout seasons.
However, credit has to be given where it is truly due, and that lies with head coach Phil Housley. Poached from Peter Laviolette’s coaching staff after the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run, Housley took his power play and offensive ideas to mold this Buffalo team. More importantly, he has them believing that they can compete against the likes of Toronto, Boston, and Tampa Bay. Sure enough, they can.
The Nashville Predators
Shortly before Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, it was announced that Filip Forsberg would miss 4-6 weeks due to an upper body injury. He joined Kyle Turris, P.K. Subban, and Viktor Arvidsson on the injured reserve list.
This is arguablythe most banged-up that the Predators have been since their 2017 Stanley Cup Finals run. David Poile called up Anthony Richard and Eeli Tolvanen to fill the void left behind. The Predators won 5-2, and Tolvanen picked up his first NHL goal and an assist. More importantly, Tolvanen came out onto the ice with a forecheck that he never showed last season or in training camp. He properly rotated his body to shield the puck in corners, had more hustle moving to the boards, and won a number of battles for the puck. Much of what he was previously critiqued for, he appeared to be correcting.
This is obviously a great sign for the Predators, because in calling Tolvanen up, management very likely did not expect him to be ready per se for NHL hockey. Rather, the call up felt more like management wanted to just see what he learned before the injured players returned. Sure enough, Tolvanen showed that he is understanding the “compete level” that is needed to succeed and, although he may not be on the roster when everybody returns from injury, he is making important strides in his development.
Reasons to Watch
- Buffalo is a fun, fast, exciting team to see play hockey. The Eastern Conference teams only visit Bridgestone so often, so this is your chance to see them live!
- Eeli Tolvanen.
- Sticking with Finns, Pekka Rinne is playing out-of-this-world hockey right now. He’s a shoo-in for at least three jaw-dropping saves tonight.
Buffalo wings are on the docket tonight! The real question is how hot of a sauce to make to go with them...
Sights and Sounds
The game is at 7:00ct and will be televised live from Bridgestone Arena on Fox Sports South. If you only have radio, 102.5 The Game will have you covered.